Sustainable fashion has become an industry buzzword in the recent years. With increasing awareness of fashion’s pollutive impact on the environment, consumers are becoming more conscious when it comes to their purchases, while brands have committed to sustainability by launching initiatives and programs that advocate transparency across their production stages.
Enter Zalora who is using its position, and power, as Asia’s leading fashion e-commerce platform to establish a comprehensive plan for positive changes in the industry. It has recently released its Sustainability Strategy to take accountability for its environmental impact, while inspiring customers to shop more consciously.
The strategy outlines ambitious targets for 2022 to 2025 across four key pillars: environmental footprint across its operations, sustainable consumption, ethical sourcing, and responsible workplace and community engagement. Other impressive points include the reduction of plastic packaging volume by 40%, incorporating sustainable materials, fully offsetting carbon emissions from its operations and transport, and ensuring that 50% of its product assortment are verified as sustainable.
So how does the e-commerce giant plan on achieving them all by 2025? We chat with Zalora CEO Gunjan Soni to find out more about the strategy, the brand’s commitment to shaping a sustainable fashion ecosystem, as well as her thoughts on sustainable fashion.
Could you tell us how the Sustainability Strategy came about? What does Zalora hope to achieve?
It’s a natural extension of our brand DNA and our collective passion for sustainability. When I joined Zalora about a year back, there was widespread perception that South East Asian consumers only cared about value purchases—sustainability was a topic for the distant future. However, as I conversed with employees, it became clear to me that we could play a role in shaping a different future.
We examined the entire fashion ecosystem in Southeast Asia—from customers, brands and vendors, to our very own employees. By pursuing commitments and concrete targets, we hope to achieve a lasting systemic shift in Southeast Asia towards sustainable fashion. We want to educate and encourage more of our fashion-loving consumers to choose sustainable products or participate in a circular economy. As the leading fashion e-commerce player in the region, we recognise that we are in a good position to influence our suppliers and supply chain partners to operate in a more sustainable way.
Why is sustainability and circular fashion important to Zalora?
It’s important to us because we recognise the impact the fashion industry has on the environment and we want to make a positive difference. Consumer sentiment is also shifting rapidly—the future demands a fresh perspective on fashion and how we consume it. In a region like SEA where affordability is still a challenge for many, we believe circular fashion can be a very viable approach for both consumers and the environment. In December 2019, we introduced a “Pre-loved” category in partnership with luxury marketplace reseller Style Tribute in Singapore and Malaysia, allowing consumers to purchase pre-loved luxury items with the assurance of authenticity on Zalora’s website and mobile app.
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How is e-commerce well-placed in shaping a sustainable fashion ecosystem?
With the industry showing no signs of stopping, e-commerce is well-placed to shape consumer behaviour in unprecedented ways. By providing customers with the necessary information about materials and sourcing, for example, we can help them be more conscious about what they buy. This can be in the form of making sustainability more searchable or introduce sustainability product tagging to the catalogue. Over time, this transparency can have a staggering impact. As a company that works with over 3,000 brands and has an extensive supply chain network, we believe we have the responsibility to take the lead.
How is the Sustainability Strategy tailored to address the challenges of fashion ecommerce in Southeast Asia?
It considers all aspects of the ecosystem. Unlike the United States or Europe, Southeast Asia is a region that consumes fashion just as much as it supplies and manufactures it—that is why the first pillar in our Sustainability Strategy concerns our environmental footprint. We want to capitalise on our vantage point to work with partners across the ecosystem to introduce new sustainable practices, not just in our private label supply chain. Another one of our pillars, Ethical Sourcing, is focused on enhancing supply chain ethical standards and transparency; and reducing our raw materials impact through the launch of a private label capsule made from sustainable materials. Finally, in a region like SEA where affordability and access are big challenges for many, we believe circular fashion can be a win-win for both consumers and the environment, hence the focus.
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How were the key sustainability pillars of the Sustainability Strategy identified, and how does Zalora plan on achieving these targets?
It’s usually a good principle to first look inward. To start with, we took stock of our own operations to identify Zalora’s direct areas of impact and consider how these relate to our immediate business activities. We then looked at issues we can directly control and act on. It is very important to us that we define these targets clearly and in concrete, actionable terms.
The four pillars, meanwhile, ensure that we make an impact across the supply chain. What is clear to us is that this journey will be a collective pursuit with all our stakeholders. The targets drive us forward, they keep us focused, and they enable us to closely assess and measure the environmental impact of our business activities. As we progress, we will adapt our approaches accordingly, and commit to honest and transparent reporting so that we can truly make a difference.
Out of the four sustainability pillars, which do you feel would be the most challenging?
Each sustainability pillar presents its own set of challenges as we are operating across uniquely different markets in the region. Perhaps the most challenging, but also the most exciting pillar to address would be Sustainable Consumption, as it entails a mindset and behavioural change amongst customers. It will undoubtedly take time, but the potential wave of change it can create is phenomenal. It is a challenge that energises our team, because it requires us to keep coming up with creative, innovative ways to inspire Zalora customers to make sustainable choices. I cannnot think of a more purposeful challenge to take on!
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What are your top sustainable fashion tips?
Firstly, invest in good quality pieces that you can wear again and again. Mixing and matching for different occasions extends the shelf life of your pieces while switching things up! Look out for new, upcoming brands—they are often doing the most interesting work, some of which provide local artisans with sustained employment. By supporting brands that promote ethical consumption and sustainability, you are helping to create a sustainable future for all. Also, don’t forget to explore pre-loved fashion items—being fashionable does not necessarily mean that we have to chase the latest trends; it is about embracing your own style identity.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Find out more about Zalora’s Sustainability Strategy here.